For the past five week we have been walking, in a virtual way, around the Lent art installation in Southwark Cathedral. The pieces, all by the artist Peter Burke, are made from soil – hence the title we gave them, ‘Earthworks’. I liked that title when it was suggested because it described the pieces but it also took us into the possibility of theological reflection and that is the real point for me. Lent is a time for going deeper, into God, into self, into discipleship and whether it’s through some self imposed discipline, or a study group or reading a Lent book or doing good works or just (and that is no value judgement) looking at art, all these things help us in that aim.
But the title worked on another level for me as well. All around Southwark Cathedral there are development and redevelopment sites. The most dramatic have been around the Shard and London Bridge Station but there are many significant building sites a stones throw from the Cathedral. As a lad I often went out with my dad on a Saturday. He was in Building Control but at the weekends was a part-time architect. We’d often go and inspect the progress on a building site. The first stage is of course the ground works, or, lets call them, the earthworks. Getting those right was essential for what was going to be built above. Vast and deep caverns are opened up in the ground to take the buildings around the Cathedral and much is exposed as that happens. In Borough High Street we’ve seen in recent months the foundations of inns from the time of Chaucer, Roman bath complexes, a renaissance palace, all exposed. Digging down produces treasure and helps us build – and that must be part of Lent.
The final station on our ‘Earthworks’ journey is at the High Altar where we find an incomplete circle of feet. They emerge and disappear beneath the altar, an ongoing and mysterious circle. Our virtual feet have brought us to this point and now we look at these feet.
‘Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ (Mark 16.7)
Where are these feet heading? Where are your feet taking you? What journey are they on? What journey are you on?
One of the powerful themes throughout the Bible is that of the journey. We are a pilgrim people, people on the move, ‘with no abiding city’ (Hebrews 13.14). Our father Abraham travelled, Moses and the children of Israel travelled, the exiles to Babylon travelled back to their land of freedom, Jesus spent his ministry on the road. After his resurrection he is on the move again and goes ahead of the disciples, messaging them to follow him.
You have travelled round this Cathedral, stopping, looking, thinking, praying and now you arrive at these mysterious feet. We see most of the journey – but not all of it. It seems to disappear, beneath the altar, out of our sight, out of your sight, and we are left wondering – where are these feet heading, what journey are they on and where am I heading?
The truth for each of us is that, whilst we may not know the details of the journey, we never travel alone as none of our forebears did. Our God treads this earth from which we were made, accompanies, companions us on the road and pioneers the path ahead.
Wherever you go from here – God will go with you – as will this ancient Celtic blessing.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.